Culture has been on my mind a lot lately. The cultures I’m a part of, the cultures I’m learning about, the cultures I’m fascinated by, and the cultures that I find repulsive. Cultures are fascinating. I’ve occasionally been tempted to study Anthropology, but I just don’t see that one paying the bills. Besides, I always come back to writing when I daydream about the future. I’m sure more than a few readers can relate. Writing. Not just because, “I want to be a writer.” But, rather, because writing brings it all together. Cultures communicate both internally and externally through the written word. Musicians write their lyrics. Diplomats write treaties. Scientists write theses on important research. Politicians write laws. Journalists write the news. Authors write books. Writing is so important in most cultures that we’ve overcome every conceivable hurdle to allow the written word to be accessible to everyone. We have Braille, books on tape, closed captioning, blogs, and food labels. Everything is written down in one form or another. Everything is cultural, and it’s the high-quality writer that makes productive communication happen – whether within a culture or between cultures.
We’re all part of one culture or, most likely, several. Using myself as an example, I’m:
1) An American,
2) A veteran,
3) A member of Gen. X,
4) A roleplaying gamer,
5) A videogame gamer,
6) A geek,
7) A writer,
8) A State of Texas employee,
9) A metalhead,
10) A parent; and,
11) A…well, a lot of things.
Each of these groups has its own culture with subcultures underneath. In fact, some of the things listed are subcultures of the other things. I’m not just a veteran, I’m an American veteran, which involves a different experience, I’m sure, than being a Russian, German, or Syrian veteran. We can all relate to the similarities in our cultures, but only an American vet will understand what it’s like to work with our Veterans Affairs department, or how we structure our training, or what it’s liked to be stationed on an American base in Korea or Germany. The minutiae of differences pile up, though the core experience is very similar.
Those are the cultures I’m a part of. I think it’s also important to realize that those are among the cultures I’m still learning about. My friends and I regularly give one another a hard time about our “geek cred” whenever we meet up. It seems that, not having watched more than a few episodes of Dr. Who and a dislike of Babylon 5 have cost me points somewhere. I wasn’t aware that there was a scorecard, but I’m assured that there is. Luckily, both are available on Netflix™. There’s hope for me my fellow geeks.
This image is found in about five bajillion places online. I would like to credit it properly, so if you know of the origin, please let me know. Thanks!
Then there are the cultures I haven’t yet mentioned that I find fascinating. Years ago, I had the privilege of being stationed in Germany. For those of you who haven’t travelled through Europe, the history there is palpable. Walking through the halls of a castle has a feel to it that looking at our relatively young American historical sites just can’t compare to. Now, that isn’t to say that those American sites aren’t impressive. Some move me to tears. Still, it’s not the same feeling. And the people and values there are old souls as well. The values are old and reverent and simple. They’re not prudes. They’re pragmatics, with good manners and a sense of community that seems to be lost outside of rural America.
Or the current culture of today’s youth in America. The people who look at Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus as heroes. The people that use words like swag and yolo while taking selfies with duck faces. On the one hand, “Hey. They’re just kids having fun.” On the other, “Ok. THIS is who’s supposed to take care of me when I’m old and frail?” I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the same anxiety the older generation had about Gen X coming into play in the economy and elsewhere – and the same anxiety their parents had about them.
Further on, we’ve got the metalhead culture. I call myself a metalhead, and I rarely find music outside of metal that I like. Still, I’m not the religiously-metal person one sees in make-up at a Slipknot concert, nor am I the guy that can quote all the lyrics, tell you the album the song was recorded on while smoking the same recreational substance that So-and-So was on when he composed the tune. I just like metal, along with that feeling you get when the music thrums through your bones like a million volts of power.
Then there are the cultures that truly revolt me. Those little sects in society which are closed minded, bigoted, hateful and unwise. There are religious groups, political parties, racists, sexists, and many of the super-wealthy.
How does one even start to look at these people and comprehend their motives and how they came to be? We need to look at them so that they become something that can be dealt with, and I truly believe that we can overcome those things in time if we’re brave enough. But wow. Just… Wow! Nazis roam about spewing hatred. Some women spew hatred at men, who are “all pigs” while some men talk about how a girl “deserved to be raped.” Really? The wealthy rail against the evils of “Obamacare” while not providing any solutions of their own to the lack of healthcare available to the less wealthy. The poor scream about the evil of the 1% without recognizing how much many of those people do to make the world a better place. All of it evil simply in the face of the ignorance and victimized attitude behind it. All of it so polarized that no solution to the problems are acceptable unless one side annihilates the other.
And – all of it – great material for storytelling. Stories happen in cultures. Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries in English culture. Davey Crocket went on escapades in the Old West culture. Spartacus had his adventures in Mediteranean culture. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” I think that’s good advice to an extent, but I’d also say that, if we’re going to write what we know, and we want our settings to have a cultural flare, we’d best know a variety of cultures. Let’s update that saying to, “You write what you know, so know the cultures you want to write within.”